Tigers are ‘brainier’ than lions
As the King of the Jungle, the lion may have the brawn, but it is the tiger that has the brains, claim scientists.
By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Published: 12:31PM BST 02 Sep 2009
Researchers have discovered that the tiger has a far bigger brain than its big cat rival, even though it is often seen as lower down the food chain.
A team of zoologists at Oxford University compared the brain cavity in the skulls of both animals and found tigers are 16 per cent bigger than lions, leopards and jaguars.
In evolutionary terms, brain size has usually been linked to intelligence.
Academics have always thought that social species, such as lions, should have larger brains than solitary species, such as tigers, because of the need to handle a more complex social life within groups or prides.
“What we had not expected is that the tiger has clearly much bigger relative brain size than do the other three species, which all have similar relative brain sizes,” said Dr Nobby Yamaguchi, the author of the study at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.
“When we compare the two biggest species, on average, the lion has a bigger skull than the tiger based on the greatest length of the skull.
“However, the tiger has bigger cranial volume than the lion. It is truly amazing that tiny female Balinese tiger skulls have cranial volumes as large as those of huge male southern African lion skulls.
“Unfortunately we have no other evidence to suggest that tigers are more intelligent than lions.”
The team studied the skulls of 370 lions, 225 tigers, 32 jaguars, and 42 leopards from museums around the world for the research that was published in Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.
They investigated the relationship between the skull size – the longest length between the front and back parts of the skull – and the volume inside the cats’ respective craniums.
They concluded that the tigers have a relatively bigger brain (around 16 per cent larger) than lions, given their very similar average body sizes.
Lions, leopards and jaguars have almost identically sized brains to lions which makes tigers the odd one out as they shared a common ancestor around 3.7 million years ago.
Now the researchers want to find out which parts of the tiger’s mind are bigger than lions to try to determine why it needs so much brain power.
Dr Yamaguchi said despite the disparity in brain size, the lion remained at the top of the food chain.
“Because lions are in groups they just beat up solitary animals like tigers – but then maybe tigers are intelligent enough to stay out of their way.”